Leading by 18 points with 12 minutes to play, the Manly Sea Eagles have capitulated at Lottoland by conceding four tries in six minutes to allow the Penrith Panthers to snatch a 28-24 victory in a bizarre finish played before a crowd of 6,134.
Seemingly doing enough to lead 24-6 with the clock winding down, a combination of reduced intensity on Manly's behalf and an opportunistic finish from Penrith will leave coaches Trent Barrett and Anthony Griffin furious at the performances of their respective clubs.
With both sides conceding half centuries in embarrassing losses last week, the need to bounce back with stronger defensive efforts dictated a sluggish opening 40 minutes.
Opening the scoring with a penalty goal in the 12th minute courtesy of Daly Cherry-Evans, the Sea Eagles' struggled to make the most of limited attacking opportunities due to poor ball control coming out of their own end.
Capitalising upon repeated opportunities inside the Manly half, Penrith centre Dean Whare celebrated his 100th game for the club by claiming the first try in the 26th minute to give the visitors a 6-2 lead following Nathan Cleary's touchline conversion.
Looking likely to take a four point deficit into the break, a fortuitous repeat set allowed rookie hooker Manase Fainu to touch down for his maiden NRL try with seconds remaining before the halftime siren to give Manly an 8-6 lead.
With the result capable of going either way the Sea Eagles looked to gain an unassailable lead with a strong start to the second half, resulting in tries to Daly Cherry Evans (48th minute) and a double to Brian Kelly (53rd & 58th minutes) pushing the score out to 24-6 with 20 minutes to play.
Opting to put the result beyond doubt with 17 minutes to play courtesy of a long-range penalty goal, Cherry-Evans' wayward strike appeared ineffectual at the time, but with the home side lacking the killer instinct required to go the distance the drop in intensity proved the invitation needed for the Panthers to pounce.
Scoring three tries in quick succession to Josh Mansour (68th minute), Isaah Yeo (70th minute) and Waqa Blake (72nd minute), a missed conversion by Cleary from the sideline saw the Panthers narrow the margin to just two points.
Playing a heroic role in establishing the lead for Manly, fullback Tom Trbojevic endured a moment of tragedy in returning a Panthers kick by losing possession close to his try line. Needing little incentive to swoop on the loose ball, Cleary's touchdown in the 74th minute sealed the undeserved result for the visitors.
Despite the outcome the Panthers were far from impressive in victory, while in a season of immense disappointment for the Sea Eagles the late collapse was another blow to the finalists of last year.
Next week the two teams will both feature in Sunday football with the Sea Eagles travelling to Cronulla for the 2pm kick-off, while the Panthers will host the Raiders later in the day.